Fears of job losses from Obamacare could have been prevented

“The heart of it is that we will go out of business. Ninety-eight percent of our revenue is helping people with their health insurance. If you take 98 percent of your revenue away, you no longer exist.”

That is the fear of independent insurance agent Sandra Schlaefer as the Dayton Administration moves to implement Obamacare in Minnesota. Insurance agents across Minnesota are growing more upset with how the Dayton Administration is building Obamacare’s health care exchange and are increasingly unsure of what it means for their jobs.

It didn’t have to be this way.

Back in 2010, Representative Peggy Scott proposed an amendment that would have protected insurance agents and their employees from losing their jobs because of Obamacare. Democrats, eager to embrace the health care law no matter what, voted it down.

“No insurance agent or an employee of the agent shall suffer a job loss, reduction in profit, or loss of business as a result of state implementation of the provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and the health care reform provisions in the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.”

It’s not just individuals and families who rely on insurance agents to help find coverage, small businesses do as well:

Almost all small businesses use agents when buying health insurance coverage, Merz said, adding that agents often serve as the human resource departments for companies that aren’t big enough to handle the chores themselves.

Had the proposal to protect jobs passed, Minnesotans who help families and businesses buy insurance would not have had to worry about losing their jobs. Instead that is exactly the fear they now face. All because of Democrats’ single-minded focus on imposing Obamacare no matter the cost. Even if the cost is jobs.

Subcommittee on Employee Relations Rejects Tentative Union Contracts

Citing lack of reform and unsustainable status quo, Republicans on the Subcommittee on Employee Relations today voted to reject the tentative contract agreements negotiated by Governor Mark Dayton and two of the state’s largest unions ‐ American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE).

“We have communicated our expectations for new contracts to Governor Dayton since January,” said Senator Mike Parry (R‐Waseca), Chair of the Subcommittee on Employee Relations. ” We support salary increases. However, as we have stated many times, we would like to see performance as a determining factor in salary increases. The time to reform government costs and accountability is now.”
The contracts as proposed provide all AFSCME and MAPE employees a 2 percent across the board increase beginning in January 2013. Eligible employees – more than 50 percent of the state workforce ‐‐ will also receive tenure‐based increases known as “steps.” When combined with the 2 percent across the board increase, this result in a total 2.75% increase in FY2012 and a 4.75% increase in FY2013 for AFSCME; and a 3.5% increase in FY2012 and 5.5% increase in FY2013 for MAPE. In addition to wage increases, individual employees will continue to receive free health insurance as the state would pay for 100 percent of the insurance premium for individuals and 85 percent of the premium for family coverage.
The contracts as proposed will cost the state an additional $59 million in FY2013, an increase of $16 million from their current contracts. State agencies will need to absorb $174 million for contract costs in FY2014‐2015.
“Wage increases based on seniority are a poor proxy for rewarding performance,” said Representative Steve Drazkowski (R‐Mazeppa), Vice‐Chair of the Subcommittee on Employee Relations. “Minnesota can no longer afford to reward people based on how long they have been in state service. A 7 to 9 percent increase in salary is simply unsustainable, particularly looking into the next biennium.”
In 2009, Minnesota was one of only 14 states to pay 100 percent of the monthly premium costs for a basic or standard health plan for some or all individual employees. This plan costs taxpayers nearly one‐half billion dollars per biennium to provide the 50,000 enrolled workers with fully paid health insurance premiums. Health coverage in Minnesota is anticipated to increase by 9 percent in 2013 alone.
Republicans on the Subcommittee on Employee Relations said initial negotiations between Governor Dayton and the unions targeted a 10 percent contribution from employees toward their health insurance premiums. It was not included in the final agreement.
“State employees have long benefitted from a broad, high cost health insurance plan that requires no premium contribution for individual coverage,” Representative Drazkowski said. “We agree with Governor Dayton’s initial position of requiring employees to pay a percentage of their health insurance premiums. The fiscal pressures facing our state require a change in state benefits plans. Health insurance premiums should align with private sector and be cost‐shared by employer and employee.”
The Subcommittee on Employee Relations cannot modify a collective bargaining agreement. Republicans on the subcommittee said they call upon Governor Mark Dayton to return to the bargaining table and reach an agreement that includes reform and protects taxpayers.
“If Governor Dayton and the unions are able to present tentative contracts that contain the performance‐based wage increases and employee contribution to health insurance premiums, we are confident the Subcommittee on Employee Relations would be in a position to grant interim legislative approval,” Senator Parry said.
In the meantime, AFSCME and MAPE will continue to operate under the existing contract, which provides
funding for autopilot wage increases and continued free health insurance for all state employees.
Senator Parry and Representative Drazkowski sent Governor Dayton the following letter after the vote.

MINNESOTA HOUSE PASSES TAX RELIEF AND JOB CREATION ACT

Saint Paul – (March 22, 2012) – The Minnesota House of Representatives today approved the Tax Relief and Job Creation Act by a vote of 72-62. The act is focused on three areas that will encourage long-term economic growth including  statewide business property tax relief, investment in innovation and emerging industries, and job training and placement programs targeted toward Greater Minnesota and veterans.

“We need to do everything we can to make Minnesota a more attractive place to do business, encourage entrepreneurship and foster job creation,” said Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove).  “This will not happen with one-time spending focused on short term gain. Our Tax Relief and Job Creation Act  is focused on business and employment growth, which will encourage long-term economic activity. It encourages businesses to stay here, expand here and create jobs here.”

The Tax Relief and Job Creation Act freezes the statewide tax on business property for one year and phases out the statewide tax on business property over 12 years beginning in 2014. It also excludes 70 percent of the first $150,000 of value for all business property in 2013, benefitting small businesses throughout the state especially those in Greater Minnesota.

“Minnesota’s business property tax rate ranks among the highest in the United States. Our property tax relief package helps create a stronger, competitive business climate by freezing the statewide business property tax rate for one year and phasing out this burdensome regressive tax to allow for more investment in products, services and employees,” said Rep. Greg Davids (R-Preston), chief author of the bill.

The Tax Relief and Job Creation Act also supports investment in technology and innovation, which will help make Minnesota a magnet for emerging and high growth industries.  The Act

  • Provides $5 million in increased funding for the Angel Investment Tax Credit. In 2011, the $16 million allocated to the program ran out in November  resulting in numerous applications being rejected and Minnesota lost out on new jobs. The additional $5 million will result in more investment in Minnesota start-up companies.
  • Increases the Research and Development credit by $25 million, which will encourage entrepreneurship and make Minnesota a more attractive place to do business.
  • Provides an upfront sales tax exemption for small businesses. This will allow small business, less than $1 million and less than 20 employees, to invest in their business or hire additional employees rather than loaning that money to the state’s general fund.
  • Establishes the Technology Corporate Franchise Tax Certificate Transfer Program, which allows small, start-up biotech companies in Minnesota to transfer or sell their net operating loss carryovers to larger, more profitable companies. This helps small businesses to gain access to an immediate infusion of cash so they can invest in their operations and hire more employees.

“Our investment in innovation is a long-term investment strategy in entrepreneurship, business development and job creation to help Minnesota become a magnet  for the high growth businesses such as medical devices, bio technology and the life science industry,” Zellers said.

The Tax Relief and Job Creation Act also creates a internship grant program that is aimed at attracting and keeping talent in Greater Minnesota. The program, which is administrated through the Office of Higher Education, provides a grant of up to $1250 per intern to employers. The Act also creates a permanent tax credit of up to $14,400 for employers who hire veterans who are disabled, unemployed or receive food stamps.

The  bill will now be referred to the Minnesota Senate for consideration.

Photo ID constitutional amendment bill passes the House

PHOTO ID CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT BILL PASSES THE HOUSE

St. Paul – The Minnesota House of Representatives today passed the photo ID constitutional amendment bill on a vote of 72-62. The bill, House File 2738, allows for a public vote in the November election on a photo ID voting requirement.

Under the bill, a ballot question would ask if voters would like to add an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution that would require that, on Election Day, all voters present valid photo identification prior to casting a ballot. A majority vote of the people would amend the constitution, and the Legislature would implement the new photo ID requirement in 2013. This amendment would also require state identification be made available at no charge to those who do not already have an ID.

The amendment preserves the ability of all eligible Minnesotans, including military members, college students, and the elderly, to continue voting with ease. It also keeps in place same day voter registration and absentee voting. Representative Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake), the chief author of the bill, testified on the House floor on behalf of her bill.

“I think it is fitting that this measure be given approval by our voting public,” said Representative Kiffmeyer. “Polls are showing overwhelming public support for a photo ID voting requirement; and this will finally put that decision where it belongs, in the hands of the Minnesota voters. This measure will add some much needed integrity to our voter registration system.”

Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove) added “Minnesotans deserve to know their vote counts. Photo ID is a simple, common sense measure that protects the integrity of our elections and instills greater confidence in the process.”

House File 2738 must be approved by the Minnesota Senate before it will appear on the ballot this November. The amendment does not include any mandates for spending or technology requirements. Enacting legislation would be decided by the Legislature only after the amendment is approved during the 2012 November election.

GOP Proposes bill to repay school shift

Omnibus bill pays of extended 2011 shift, beings to repay DFL’s 2010 shift

ST. PAUL, March 8, 2012 — Minnesota House Republicans today proposed a bill that would pay off the extended school shift enacted as part of the compromise budget agreed to with Governor Dayton in July 2011. The bill would also start repaying the debt to schools left by the 2010 DFL Legislature.

“With this bill in law we would pay back all of the 10-percent additional shift the Legislature and the governor agreed to in balancing budget,” said House Education Finance Committee Chair Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington. “That debt would be repaid to schools and we’d starting paying back the debt this Legislature inherited at the start of last year.”

 

The shift repayment will come from the $1 billion in cash the state currently sits on, Garofalo said. That cash is the result of more positive economic forecasts since last year’s budget agreement. The first $318 million repayment is already certified by Minnesota Management & Budget and scheduled to be made later this month.

“In just eight months, the budget outlook improved enough so that we can repay schools,” said House Speaker Kurt Zellers. “We’re saying that instead of letting that cash sit in a bank account, we use it to pay back the shift. That should be our priority.”

 

The bill – House File 2083 – would repay schools $430 million to return the payment schedule to the 70/30 rate it was at the start of the 2011 legislative session. It would then make the first repayment toward the shift enacted by the DFL legislature in 2010.

“We are repaying our shift and starting to clean up the debt the Democrats left schools under in 2010,” Garofalo said. “My hope is they will go along with us in starting payments on the portion of the debt they are responsible for passing onto our schools,” he added.

 

HF 2083 is the omnibus education policy and finance bill. It will be up for a vote before the full Minnesota House this month.

STATE SURPLUS $1.2 BILLION; POSITIVE ECONOMIC FORECAST CONTINUES

SAINT PAUL — (February 29, 2012) — Speaker of the Minnesota House Kurt Zellers today said good fiscal management by Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature has turned the state’s bleak economic outlook from one year ago into positive news.

“In one year our state went from a $6.1 billion deficit to a $1.2 billion surplus. The Republican plan is working,” said Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers. “The state’s revenue growth is not attributable to new taxes, but to a recovering economy that allows hard-working jobs creators and families to succeed.”

According to Minnesota Management and Budget, Minnesota’s financial outlook has improved slightly since November with forecast revenues up $33.8 billion, which is up $93 million from November estimates. Forecast state government spending is projected to be down $528 million from previous estimates. These changes result in an additional $323 million to the state’s budget. When combined with the $876 million surplus in November, the state of Minnesota now has a $1.2 billion surplus.

Zellers credited stronger than expected revenue growth, reduced state spending and low unemployment rate combined with private sector economic growth for the state’s additional revenue.  He added that had Republicans not restrained state spending, government spending would be increasing at a rate far higher than even a strong economy can support.

“The February forecast confirms what we saw in November. This is a positive trend that Republicans remain committed to continuing. Investment and private sector jobs must be welcomed, not chased away by excessive taxes, regulations and burdensome government bureaucracy,” Zellers said.

The surplus means the state’s budget picture has changed dramatically from when the Legislature convened one year ago. At that time, the state faced a $6.1 billion deficit with no budget reserve and no cash flow account to ward against short-term borrowing. Today, the $1.2 billion surplus means the reserve and cash flow account will be fully restored with enough left over to begin repaying the additional 10-percent school shift that resulted from the budget agreement.

“Republicans and Democrats agree repayment of the shift is a top priority. We were thrilled a strong private sector economy is providing the resources necessary to pay the additional 10 percent that resulted from the budget agreement. We remain committed to paying back that percentage and then tackling the 70/30 shift as agreed to by the Democrats when they controlled the Minnesota Legislature,” Zellers said.

Zellers said he was disappointed Governor Mark Dayton and the DFL continue to push for tax increases.

“Job-killing tax increases to fuel unchecked government growth is a bad idea. Minnesota ranks 39th in tax burden for existing businesses and 35th for new businesses. We need to spend less time talking about raising taxes and more time creating economic opportunity,” Zellers said. “The Reform 2.0 agenda being worked on at the State Capitol will restore confidence in our economy to grow businesses and create jobs, improve education and reform government services to make them more effective to the people government serves and cost-efficient to the taxpayers who pay for it.”

Minnesota House Closes Loophole in Sex Offender Community Notification Law

The Minnesota House of Representatives today voted to close a loophole in the state’s sex offender community notification law.

Under current state law, local law enforcement is prohibited from holding community notification meetings on sex offenders being released from the Minnesota Sexual Offender Program (MSOP) to a half-way house. The Minnesota House today approved legislation that will authorize local law enforcement to notify the public when a sex offender from MSOP is provisionally discharged into the community.

“One of our first responsibilities as legislators is public safety. Current state law regarding community notification of sex offenders contained an unfortunate loophole that could jeopardize public safety,” said Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers. “If high risk sex offenders are going to be released from the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, citizens deserve to know where they will live.”

During a February 15 legislative hearing, MSOP officials said that Minnesota state law does not require community notification in instances of sex offenders from the program being released to a halfway house. House Republicans were concerned with this information as a judicial panel recently decided to provisionally discharge Clarence Opheim, a sex offender who molested 29 children in the 1970s and 1980s. Opheim is expected to be released from the MSOP program in the next week.

“Communities should be informed when a convicted sex offender moves into their neighborhood,” said Representative Kathy Lohmer, author of the bill. “Instead of rumor and uncertainty, community notification will provide factual public safety information regarding the discharge and supervision of sex offenders from the Minnesota Sex Offender Program to concerned citizens.”

The bill was sent to the Minnesota Senate. Governor Mark Dayton has indicated he will sign the bill into law.

House Republicans focus on hiring and keeping effective teachers

The Minnesota House of Representatives will kick off the education portion of their “Reform 2.0” initiative as Representatives Andrea Kieffer and Branden Petersen present education reform bills on the House floor this week. Both bills are meant to improve Minnesota teachers by ensuring that Minnesota school districts are hiring and keeping effective teachers.

Representative Andrea Kieffer (R-Woodbury) sponsors House File 1770, which requires teacher candidates to pass the basic skills exam before being granted an initial teaching license.

“We all agree that we need to raise the bar for teacher candidates in order to solve the achievement gap,” Kieffer said. “Current law requires the basic skills test, but still allows teachers in the classroom even if they fail. This bill addresses concerns that teacher candidates should not be allowed into the classroom prior to passing the basic skills exam.”

The bill also requires teachers who completed their teacher preparation program outside Minnesota to pass the basic skills exam before being granted a Minnesota teaching license.

“The bill has received bi-partisan authorship in the House and Senate,” Kieffer said. “I look forward to continued bi-partisan progress as the legislation moves through the Senate and eventually to Governor Dayton’s desk.”

In an effort to keep effective teachers, Representative Branden Petersen (R-Andover) authored House File 1870, which would eliminate a Minnesota state statute that forces school districts to consider only seniority, and ignore performance, when unfortunate teacher layoffs (ULA) are required. This bill will allow school districts to consider a teacher’s subject matter, licensure fields and their effectiveness, along with seniority when facing personnel decisions.

House File 1870 would amend Minnesota Statutes 2010, sections 122A.40, subdivisions 1.510, 11; and 122A.41, subdivision 14 which mandate that school districts account only for teacher seniority in the case of unrequested leave of absence, discharge, and demotion decisions. Minnesota is one of only 11 states in the country that retains this work rule for teachers.

“I believe this bill is an essential step in improving the performance of our teachers and school systems for the benefit of our students,” said Petersen. “A question that must be asked in this discussion is, ‘How can ignoring a teacher’s performance during layoffs (ULA) benefit our students in the classroom?’ Considering the fact that we know teachers are the most important in-school factor relating to student learning, it is essential that we protect our highest performing teachers.”

House Tax Chairman introduces property tax relief agenda for 2012 session

St. Paul — Minnesota House Tax Committee chairman Greg David’s, R-Preston, today introduced a package of property tax relief initiatives for homeowners and businesses across Minnesota.

“Our property tax relief package is built on the belief that the best property tax relief is given directly to people who pay property taxes: home and business owners,” Davids said Monday during a State Capitol press conference. The Davids plan provides an approximately 18 percent cut in the statewide property tax burden for Greater Minnesota commercial/industrial properties, and a 4 percent reduction for metro area commercial/industrial properties.

 

The 2012 Property Tax Relief Package has two parts, each focusing separately on homeowners and businesses.

The homeowners’ portion prioritized homeowners who saw their local property taxes rise by 12 percent or more in Tax Year 2012. For those homeowners, the plan increases the percentage of property taxes the state refunds from the current 60 percent to 90 percent. It also increases the maximum refund available to already eligible homeowners by 20 percent.

“This will provide direct relief to homeowners who were hit especially hard by local property tax increases,” Davids said.

 

The business property tax package is directed toward small businesses to exclude the first $100,000 in the value of commercial/industrial property from the statewide property tax. This would reduce the tax liability of all C/I property, but is structured in a way that benefits small businesses the most.

“This plan would benefit small businesses more than a straight reduction in the statewide rate,” Davids said. “The governor vetoed our straight reduction in the 2011 session, so I’m hoping he will consider is this new approach to be more to his liking.” The second part of the business property tax relief plan freezes the statewide property tax levy. The plan does not affect local government funding or property tax calculations.

Reform 1.0: Performance Benchmarks for Higher Education

As part of this year’s higher education bill for the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, the Republican-led Legislature and DFL Governor Mark Dayton performance benchmarks for each system to meet before receiving their full allotment of funding.

For the University of Minnesota, the benchmarks are:

  1. Increase the amount of institutional financial aid so that it is greater in fiscal year 2012 than in fiscal year 2010, excluding federal stimulus funding. Institutional financial aid includes funds from the University of Minnesota Foundation and the Minnesota Medical Foundation;
  2. Produce at least 13,500 total degrees on all campuses in fiscal year 2012;
  3. Increase the undergraduate four- and six-year graduation rates on the Twin Cities campus for 2011-2012, as reported in the federal completions survey, over the numbers for 2009-2010, as reported in the federal completion survey;
  4. Produce total research and development expenditures, as reported to the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the University of Minnesota system so that the amount in the 2012 NSF report is not less than the amount in the 2010 NSF report; and
  5. Produce sponsored funding from business and industry so that funding in fiscal year 2012, as reported to the Board of Regents in December of that year, is not less than funding in fiscal year 2010.

The University must meet at least three of these benchmarks to receive its full funding from the state.

For MnSCU, the benchmarks are:

  1. Increase by at least seven percent, compared to fiscal year 2009, graduates or degrees, diplomas and certificates conferred;
  2. Increase by at least ten percent, compared to fiscal year 2010, the number of students of color;
  3. Increase by at least fifteen percent, compared to fiscal year 2010, the full year equivalent enrollment of students taking online or blended courses or the number of online and blended sections;
  4. Increase by at least one percent the fall 2011 persistence and completion rate for fall 2010 entering students compared to the fall 2010 rate for fall 2009 entering students; and
  5. Decrease by at least two percent, compared to calendar year 2009, total energy consumption per square foot.

Like the U of M, MnSCU must meet three of these five benchmarks.